One day a gipsy rose beside the shrine
Grew bold and entered in. Perhaps the god,
Grown with two thousand empty years or more
A little blind, a little deaf and odd,
Thought that again the grave procession trod
By careful, secret pathways through the trees,
And there some maid, with perfumes in her breast
That an old god might know, though all the rest
Of beauty’s laughter mocked his centuries,
Besought the oracle upon her knees,
And the stone head, remembering its wreath
Of incense, bowed to emptiness beneath.
As slow green water bubbles, breaks, and drips,
The strange words formed on lichen-shaggy lips.
The silence of the dusty ages broke.
Pleased with the wafted prayer, the old god spoke.
He told how first the planets one by one
Like frightened children clustered round the sun;
How on the mountains never foot has trod
Glimmered the gods that are the moods of God;
How music with the little leaves was born,
And dancing when the white mists wreathed the morn;
How first mankind, with wondering, childish eyes,
Knelt worshipping the glory of the skies,
And God conceived the snake to some wise plan,
And then forgot His scheme and punished man;
How sweeter music, stranger, subtler bliss
Was born when Eve swayed close for Adam’s kiss;
And how in innocence, unwittingly,
Man built a better world than Arcady;
How with the half-gods whispering at his ears
He made him citadels along the years,
Till Mind grew tall, and Wisdom went on wings,
And with serene, bright foreheads sate the kings,
And eagle Youth, unknowing of its bars,
Cried “Life!” in challenge to the icy stars;
(One wove a song, one carved an ivory tower;
God, watching, shaped the petals of a flower
And laid along the bosom of a girl
The little mingled lights of brown and pearl,
And hid so soft an odour in the blue
Bowed heads of hyacinths weighed down with dew,
Imperishable Wisdom tore its wings
Seeking through thorns for little earthly things,
And Youth of shining helmet bent its head
To dream of loveliness an aeon dead.)
How in some orchard, with one delicate spray
Etched faint against the evening’s silver-grey,
King and philosopher, the strong and wise,
Have looked for God with young, beseeching eyes,
Forgetting all the splendid ends of strife,
Prayed only that some slender bloom have life,
While yet the sky no mystery discloses
But the blind, bitter answer of new roses.
Silence like twilight fell. The god had done. . . .
The little rose, impatient, tossed her head,
Half-mocking what the dotard god had said
And half afraid. The empty shrine grew cold.
She turned to seek the yellow Grecian sun,
The quiver of the grass, the talk of birds
And childish brooks, that knew no ominous words;
And a wind blew about her. One by one
The petals fluttered from her heart of gold.